Ghazal 126, Verse 5


qafas me;N mujh se ruudaad-e chaman kahte nah ;Dar hamdam
girii hai jis pah kal bijlii vuh meraa aashiyaa;N kyuu;N ho

1) in the cage, telling me the events of the garden, don't be afraid, friend--
2) the one on which lightning has fallen yesterday-- why would that be my nest?



So much meaning has been contained within these two lines that it will not be without pleasure to explain it here in detail. 1) 'A bird, separated from garden and nest, has become a captive-- only the one word 'cage' gestures toward this theme. 2) With his own eyes he has seen lightning striking the garden, and in the cage he has become anxious: 'no telling whether my nest has escaped or been burnt!'. Only the word 'yesterday' is giving evidence for all these meanings. 3) Another bird, who is his friend and companion, has come and perched on a branch before him. And the caged captive has sought to inquire from him about the events of the garden. But the companion bird, knowing that his nest has been burned, hems and haws about giving a full account: 'In this disastrous captivity, how can I tell him about the burning of his nest?'.

All this theme is established only by the sentence mujh se ruudaad-e chaman kahte nah ;Dar hamdam . 4) In addition to this abundance of meaning, how pathetic the theme in the second line makes the whole event! That is, on this captive a fresh disaster and calamity has fallen from the heavens. How he must have comforted his heart: 'In the garden there are thousands of nests, how would lightning have fallen exactly on mine?' His state is such that the beholders' and hearers' hearts ache, and they feel compassion, and the engendering of this compassion is the effect that the verse has created. (136-37)

== Nazm page 136; Nazm page 137

Bekhud Dihlavi:

Such an eloquent [balii;G] verse, and that too in this ground-- who except Mirza can compose such a verse? (191)

Bekhud Mohani:

Janab [Nazm] Tabataba'i has composed a peerless commentary on this verse. I will copy it down. [He does.] (255)


One day the hunter throws into the cage a new captive, another nightingale from that flower garden. The old prisoner asks the new one for news of the garden. During his narration the new prisoner tells about the nest on which lightning fell the previous day but stops in the middle of the utterance on realizing that the nest which was destroyed had in fact been the home of the old prisoner. At that moment the old prisoner encourages him to continue by remarking: 'Do not hesitate to tell me the news. How could that nest be my home; I have been in this cage so long that I cannot lay any claim to that nest. Fate has made this cage my home. If that home of long ago was not allowed to exist, what complaint can I make?'

== Naim 1970, pp. 39-40


[See his comparative discussion of this verse and Mir's verse M{25,4}.]



THE LOVER IS A BIRD: This is one of a number of verses in which the lover presents himself and speaks, absolutely straightforwardly and matter-of-factly, as a bird. Others include: {23,4x} (perhaps); {36,3} (perhaps); {41,9x}; {68,7x}; {71,4}; {72,1}; {114,2}; {120,1}; {145,2}, {154,4}; {166,4}; {167,2}; {184,4x}; {220,2} (very probably); {232,3} // {249x,1}; {311x,4} (very probably); {311x,5}; {322x,5}; {342x,1}; {347x,7}; {366x,7}; {370x,2}; {380x,3}; {383x,2}; {383x,5}; {403x,2}; {405x,5}; {424x,9}; {433x,3}; {435x,4}. There's also {234,6}, in which the bird image is presented as a mi;saal . And in {158,4} the lover might be speaking as a dead bird. After all, it's no stranger for the lover to speak as a bird than for him to speak after his death (on this see {57,1}), or for the beloved to have no waist or no mouth. We're not living in the real world, but in the specially equipped ghazal universe. Lots of other personas are also available to the lover, to be adopted at pleasure, as Nazm points out in discussing {59,2}. But the bird is by far the most frequent and consistent. The lover can also be more subtly bird-connected: in {220,4x} and {321x,1} he becomes the 'nest' of a flown-away bird.

This verse is so sharp and bleak and deadly-- who can encounter it without a wave of dread? It captures that first cold moment when someone is confronted with irreparable loss, when the knife is just being withdrawn. (And that someone could always be us, can always be any of us at any moment.) The fatal slash has already been made, so swiftly and deeply that the doomed person doesn't quite realize his doom. In a moment the blood will gush out, in a moment the victim will give a terrible, hopeless cry. That moment is not quite yet, it's still half a second away-- but how unbearably deep down it makes itself felt, how frantically the victim is fighting it off! The victim both does and doesn't realize his doom. He's desperately (and vainly) refusing to realize it-- and thus beginning the long and agonizing process of realizing it.

All this complexity of dread, denial, and acceptance is conveyed, through the power of implication, in two small lines. The lines aren't even informative speech, but (of course) are Ghalib's favorite inshaa))iyah performances. The first line consists of a command, the second of a question. And yet, as Nazm points out (for once joined in total and admiring agreement by Bekhud Mohani), the amount of background information conveyed by phrases like 'in the cage', and by the particular framing of the utterances is simply astonishing. It makes us realize afresh the value of a stylized poetic universe, full of images, tools, and devices that can make two tiny lines go on forever and contain the cosmos. (Naim's reading is of course possible too, though I think it reduces the power of the verse.)

Like a mushairah verse, this one remains uninterpretable until the very end, so that the last unbearable question hits us all at once with the whole weight of the verse behind it. But whereas a classic mushairah verse is experienced and relished fully in that moment, this one lingers and lingers; in fact it's unforgettable. Its depths of anguish are all the more potent for being merely implied; they are even actively rejected by the apparent sense of the verse, which makes them all the more deadly.

The second line always seems to me also like an arrow aimed right at God. It's a fierce, unanswered, maybe unanswerable question. Perhaps one deadly blow of fate is random, like the bird's capture and imprisonment. But why another, why the lightning on-- out of all the nests in the garden-- his nest? We know, too, that God is not going to answer.

On Naim's reading, 'Why would it be my nest?' becomes not a cry, but a rhetorical or philosophical question. When the bird suggests that he no longer acknowledges that nest as his, he may be expressing either helplessness and despair (doomed to captivity, what concern can he now have with the affairs of the garden?), or else Sufistic insight (meditating profoundly in his cage, the bird has now perceived the vanity of life in the transitory 'garden' of the real world).

Note for grammar fans: The temporal grammar of the second line is unusual both in Urdu and in English. For an event that occurred 'yesterday', in Urdu we'd expect girii or more probably girii thii , while in English we'd expect 'fell'. For more on such temporal awkwardnesses, see {38,1}. Here, the effect is a heightened sense of immediacy.